Sunday, July 22, 2007

Individual Adoption of Change

How to we motivate others to take advantage of Web 2.0? How do we encourage "to go to them"?

A plethora of theories and research is available on behavior change and a technology adoption. Predicting what makes individuals adopt change, a new practice, and a new technology is not easy, is not very accurate, and is nebulous. Simply, there are no easy answers.

A sampling of factors that are important to individuals changing practices, adopting technologies, and changing behavior are listed shown in the graphic. No relationship lines are drawn to each other, although many are related to each other. How would interpret these factors? Are some factors more important than others? Which factors can you change to help influence an individual to adopt technology, a new practice, or an organizational change? Which factors are missing?


How we should create change? Does your gut feeling tell you that we should focus on certain factors? What has worked in the past with invoking change? How have new practices been diffused quickly?

Understanding the Individual
First and foremost, individuals have to believe that the technologies and new practices will bring them benefits that are greater than what the process of adoption and implementation will cost them. Costs in this sense are not only economic costs and costs in time, but also costs of effort, learning, and fear of failure.

Other factors, such as organizational support, peer buy-in, and individuals believing that they have the ability to implement the change or the technology, are important.

Many of us get frustrated when people don't adopt technologies, even after we tell them all of the wonderful benefits that the individuals will get from using these new technologies. It is not that there is anything wrong with the technology or with the people who are potential adopters. We are probably taking the wrong approach to invoke change. In our attempts, we try to simplify how individuals make their decisions. We believe that describing all the benefits of a technology should invoke adoption--they should take our word for it. Simply, providing information and education is not enough.

These are the same problems that Extension professionals have when they believe a new agricultural practice, a change in financial behavior, or a change in health behavior would be in the best interest of our clients. In Cooperative Extension, our mission is to improve the quality of life through education. However, "how and when" we provide education is probably a better predictor of invoking change, than feeding the educational materials and information linear or in the schedule that fits our needs.

Invoking change effectively whether the change is a new technology, an organizational change, or a new practice starts with an understanding how and why individuals make decisions. Remembering the one making the decision to adopt a new technology or a practice is the individual. Furthermore, the "how and why" differs for each individual and may differ in time for each individual.

If we are serious about invoking change, understanding whether individuals are ready to change is also important. James Prochaska and colleagues infer that communications, motivational attempts, and education efforts should match the stage of readiness. Someone unaware of a problem and a potential solution should receive different information and motivational communications than an individual who is at a later stage, such as someone who is contemplating the change. We will be more effective if we first seek to understand where individuals are in their stage of change.

Malcolm Gladwell describes in The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference examples of trends that spread like epidemics. Both, in bad and good practices, it is through individual influences that make the difference in the progression of an innovation. The word of mouth effect can be quite powerful. He calls the people who have significant effect on the trends called Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen. Gladwell and Everett Rogers, in Diffusion of Innovation, describe environments and beliefs as important factors in creating change.

The most effective way to invoke change is by working with individuals. We have read the classic hybrid corn case in Rogers Diffusion of Innovation's and the examples in The Tipping Point. I think that Joshua Porter in Bokardo says it best when describing building social sites.
Strong social sites build value one user at a time. If one user finds value, then they’re much more likely to tell others or invite their friends.

Using Flickr as the example, Joshua indicates the importance of giving individual attention to the earliest of adopters.
"...the early success of Flickr resulted from that personal attention, that personal connection that someone on the other end cares about what’s going on. A full-time community manager is crucial to providing this level of attention."

Constant communication, connection, support, and individual attention were the keys to driving the success in the early days of Flickr. Also, Joshua describes in the seventh point, "An Over-Focus on Social Value'" that the importance of the value of the technology to the individual should override the overall value of developing a community.

These examples and theories should give us some possible ideas for strategies in pushing technology adoption: giving the earliest adopters individual attention, striving to understand what is valuable to them, helping them choose technologies that meet their needs, having constant conversations with them, and supporting them individually. In the earliest stages of technology adoption within a community or an organization, utilizing the connectors, mavens, and salespeople is also important.

1 comment:

Eli Sagor said...

Thanks Anne for an excellent post.

Typical blogging is a kind of writing (not just a technology) that is not familiar to most Extension folks. And people may feel uninterested (or scared) about trying to build an audience. What if nobody cares what they write? This might seem humiliating to some.

One way to increase adoption is to make it seem like a small step, with low risks, to accomplish familiar needs, with success measures that have little to do with readership, comment counts, etc.

Two examples:

1. We all serve on committees. Why not use blogs for updates between meetings? This is a chance to try blogging to a known, familiar, small group--more palatable to some than sending out prognostications to the whole wide world.

2. Blogging to track project progress, record rationales behind important decisions, etc. This is a chance to get familiar with the technology without pressure to build an audience. (My own example, set up exactly for this reason, is at

There are many other, better, examples.

Another big problem is the lack of familiarity with feed readers. Blogs are fine, but without RSS, if the blog isn't updated very frequently, it's dead.

So, how to increase adoption of feed readers? I use Pageflakes and have thought about using pagecasts to let others read feeds that I have set up. Other ideas?